Picture: Martin Meja/AP
The Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) has welcomed the move from global tourism heavyweights Airbnb and TripAdvisor to shun wildlife interactions and experiences without conservation backbone.  

Elephant-back rides, lion cub petting and kissing dolphins, among others, won't be featured on Airbnb, according to strict ethical standards for their new 'Animal Experiences' platform. TripAdvisor, too, has distanced themselves from attractions involved in breeding or importing captive whales and dolphins used for public display.

In 2016, TripAdvisor implemented an animal welfare programme prohibiting ticket-sales to facilities offering interactions with captive wildlife or endangered species. The facilities can still be reviewed on the platform, however. 

TripAdvisor spokesperson James Kay says the company is now ending its commercial relationships with facilities that do not have, or are not in the process of developing, alternative environments for captive marine life.

"Wildlife is the bedrock of South Africa's tourism," says Keira Powers, SATSA Animal Interaction Committee chairperson. "And we have the privileged position of offering tourists engagement with the wild and with wildlife in authentic settings." 

She says the global changes mean "only good things" for the future of tourism and animal welfare in South Africa. "These public statements catch the attention of tourists globally, and the message about captive wildlife tourism being passé will spread to more audiences in more countries than just where the sentiment currently sits." 

The new Airbnb Animal Experiences are featured in consultation with World Animal Protection and hosted by accredited conservationists or caring experts "as an antidote to typical tourist attractions that are notorious for ethical concerns," Airbnb says. 

The Penguin Paddle in Simon's Town is one of the South African experiences on offer. According to host Jon Monsoon, a career conservationist, Airbnb waives all fees for this experience so that 100% of the proceeds go directly to the cause. 

"Responsible tourism guidelines have the potential to become important social development tools, guiding and training future experience hosts towards being more ethical tour guides, and could even carry across to schools level," Monsoon says.  

Airbnb further says they are cautious of places that may call themselves 'rescues' and 'sanctuaries' but don’t operate in the animals’ best interest. Therefore, "places using wild animals for direct interactions with travellers or in performances, won't be tolerated," they say. 

"Neither will those that buy or sell wild or wild-hybrid animals or products derived from them, or breed wild animals or wild-hybrid animals, unless they are part of an official, recognized breeding program where the animals are being responsibly released back into the wild." 

This echoes TripAdvisor's new policy on marine attractions. The move means the end of ticket sales to facilities like SeaWorld. In South Africa, uShaka Marine World still offers dolphin shows which involve captive animals doing tricks. The facility is yet to confirm how the new policy changes affect them. 

These global policy changes precede a highly-anticipated Guide for Evaluating Captive Animal Attractions & Activities in South Africa, to be released by SATSA at the end of this month. According to Powers, the guide will help the South Africa animal interaction industry navigate new territory.